Tuesday, June 6, 2006
All anticipatory talk will soon end as the ball gets set to drop on another World Cup. Therefore, the time has come for us to go out on to that limb. Fortunately, the staff was in a climbing mood.

Our intrepid band of soccer correspondents have offered up their predicted outcomes for the US, plus opinions on a few other important details - such as who will win the whole shootin' thing.

As always, we welcome your salutations and criticisms alike in the§ion=generalYA mailbag[endlink].

Without any further ado, we present our World Cup 2006 predictions...

Neal Thurman

US 2 - 2 Czech Republic... With the Czechs facing an injury crisis, the US nicks a point as Bobby Convey crosses to late substitute Clint Dempsey.

US 1 - 1 Italy... The US scores early against a stunned Italy squad and then holds them off for 70 minutes before allowing a well deserved equalizer.

US 1 - 0 Ghana... The US neutralizes Ghana's midfield and wins a workman-like 1-0 match with Eddie Pope the goal-scoring hero from a Donovan corner.

Outcome... US will finish second in the group and go out to Brazil in the first knockout match. Brazil will win by at least two goals, probably three.

Breakout US Player... Bobby Convey will win a spot on the left of midfield and continuously frustrate defenders by going forward well, and delivering excellent crosses and free kicks.

Scariest Group E opponent... Milan Baroš (if healthy)

The World Cup champion... Brazil

Dark horse... Australia

Chad Winger

US 0 - 3 Czech Republic... Rosicky, Poborsky, Nedved and Baros will run amuck. We have no answer in midfield or at left back.

US 0 - 2 Italy... The only thing that will make the scoreline respectable is Italy's love of sitting back on a lead - especially after having been upset by Ghana.

US 1 - 2 Ghana... Ghana will have something left to play for at this point and will come out strong against a deflated US. I'll be nice and give Clint Dempsey a consolation goal.

Outcome... For those still basking in the glow of Korea and coming into Germany with heightened expectations, WC 2006 will make 1998 feel like 2002.

Breakout US Player... Steve Cherundolo

Scariest Group E opponent... Bruce Arena

The World Cup champion... Italy

Harris King

US 1 - 1 Czech Republic... An early Steve Cherundolo cross to McBride will catch the Czechs still dealing with nerves, but Koller and Baroš will ultimately prove lethal.

US 0 - 2 Italy... Italy will be looking for blood having drawn Ghana, and the US' inability to consistently pressure opponents up front will weigh like a millstone.

US 2 - 2 Ghana... The US will come out with nothing to lose and will look like a mid-major gunning for the Sweet 16, but a late Essien strike from distance will dash all hopes.

Outcome... This World Cup will be case of one step back in order to ultimately take two steps forward in 2010.

Breakout US Player... Clint Dempsey

Scariest Group E opponent... Alberto Gilardino

The World Cup champion... Holland

Dark horse... Ukraine

Eric Rosenberg

US 0 - 0 Czech Republic... The US defense rises admirably to the occasion, but the Czech midfield cancels out any hope of getting some offense going.

US 2 - 0 Italy... The Azzurri suffer a Beasley-to-Donovan counterattack for the first goal in the 12th minute. Another heroic defensive effort ensues, with a second goal from late substitute Johnson.

US 2 - 1 Ghana... The US withstands a record number of fouls from Ghana (14 yellow cards, 2 red) to win on goals from McBride and Donovan and take the group.

Outcome... After beating Australia on penalties, the US bow out to France 3-0.

The World Cup champion... Brazil

Dark horse... Argentina

Greg Seltzer

US 3 - 1 Czech Republic... A virtual Portugal 2002 repeat, except the banged up Czechs won't be able to offer more than some Pavel Nedved consolation.

US 0 - 2 Italy... Whether from a potential jubilation hangover or the usual problems with Italy or just a case of Azzurri anger from their Ghana draw, I just don't feel good at all about this one.

US 2 - 1 Ghana... This one won't be easy whether Ghana are fighting for survival or not. However, I firmly believe the US learned their group closer lesson last time.

Outcome... Having won their group, the 'Nats squeak past Croatia on a Gooch header. Thierry Henry and France, however, have their way in a 3-1 win.

Breakout US player... Bobby Convey

Scariest Group E opponent... Francesco Totti (if healthy)

The World Cup champion... Holland

Dark horse... Sweden

Mark Flannery

US 2 - 2 Czech Republic... Arena's fascination with bunker ball leads to a two-goal second half from the Czechs.

US 2 - 0 Italy... Fresh off of their loss to Ghana in the opening game, and a mounting soccer scandal back home, the Italian team falls apart under the pressure.

US 3 - 0 Ghana... Needing a win to take the group, the US comes out high flying versus a Ghana side that needs a win to advance.

Outcome... US advance to quarters after beating Japan on penalties, then France schools the tired Americans 4-1.

Breakout US Player...Oguchi Onyewu

Scariest Group E opponent... Luca Toni

The World Cup champion... Holland

Sean O'Conor

US 2 - 2 Czech Republic... A Suwon-esque opening sees Donovan and Dempsey give the States the lead, but the Czechs fight back.

US 1 - 2 Italy... McBride's strike around the 20-minute mark sends Italy in at the break down one, but then they turn on the gas and win through an attacking trident of Totti, Toni and Gilardino.

US 2 - 1 Ghana... America nets through Beasley and McBride, largely thanks to an overlapping Eddie Lewis running riot.

Outcome... If the States edge out the Czechs for second place it might be on goal difference, but they will fall by at least two goals to Brazil in the round of 16.

Breakout US Player... Bobby Convey

Scariest Group E opponent... Luca Toni

The World Cup champion... Brazil

Dark horse... Sweden or Ukraine

Alex Abnos

US 0 - 0 Czech Republic... Networks showing this game will be forced to change their corner score box from "USA 0 CZE 0" to "Keller 0 Cech 0".

US 1 - 2 Italy... It's a hard fought game in which both sides perform admirably, but Onyewu and the US defense keep the Italians at bay.

US 1 - 0 Ghana... The US frustrates Ghana and their constant pressure is rewarded in the 60th minute with a headed goal by McBride from a Convey cross.

Outcome... Arena gets the best of Hiddink before a 0-0 penalty win over Ukraine, but Dutch technicality and Ruud van Nistelrooy's clinical finishing are too much for the US. Brazil tops the US 4-2 in the bronze match.

Scariest Group E opponent... Michael Essien

Breakout US player: Oguchi Onyewu

The World Cup champion... Holland

Peter Kratzel

US 2 - 2 Czech Republic... This first encounter sets hearts a racing as the US goes up 2-0 on early goals from Donovan and Convey. However, Nedvěd and Rosický score in the last 15 minutes to earn a point.

US 4 - 1 Italy... - Yes, they are the Italians. Yes, they have won three World Cups. But, this team can be had and they will be punished for their lack of imagination and effort.

US 1 - 2 Ghana... A flashback to 2002, but the US finishes second in the group thanks to Italy finally waking up to beat the Czechs late.

Outcome... Dazzling goals from Bobby Convey and Brian McBride put a scare into Ronaldinho & Co. in the round of 16, but a strike from the World Footballer of the Year in the 85th minute settles it.

Breakout US Player... Clint Dempsey

Scariest Group E opponent... Petr Cech

The World Cup champion... Holland

Bri-Mathias Hodge

US 2 - 1 Czech Republic... The US starts strong against a Czech team battling injuries, age and the gravity of the moment.

US 0 - 0 Italy... In a defensive battle both teams hope to lay back and counter, but neither will get the chance as they grind out a draw.

US 1 - 1 Ghana... With both teams still having something to play for after Ghana's surprise win over Italy, the opening half sees both sides tentative and playing not to lose.

Outcome... The US matches their quarterfinal finish of 2002 after luckily topping their group. The Yanks edge out Australia, but crash out of the tournament to France on an extra-time heartbreaker.

Breakout US Player... Oguchi Onyewu

Scariest Group E opponent... Tomáš Rosický

The World Cup champion... Germany

Rich Fidler

US 1 - 1 Czech Republic... The US goes down to an early Koller goal, but bounces back late in the match on a DaMarcus Beasley finish.

US 1 - 0 Italy... The US stuns the soccer world again. A strong game from Pablo Mastroeni and a Brian McBride goal gets the Americans a victory.

US 1 - 2 Ghana... Just when you think all is going well, the Americans fall flat once again in the third match of group play.

Outcome... The favorites Brazil waste no time as they put two goals on the board in the first 25 minutes. The Americans break back in to the match thanks to a header from McBride, but eventually fall 3-1.

Breakout US player... Bobby Convey

Scariest Group E opponent... Luca Toni

The World Cup champion... Brazil

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